“It just feels good to rearrange your opponent’s face...”

Hmm. Well, if straightforward fighting games are your thing, you’ll feel more than at home with EA’s latest release in the fighting arena, FaceBreaker - the headline act in the publishing giant's new "Freestyle" lineup.

The title of the game is matched by a combination move that you can execute within the game - assuming you're quick enough to beat your opponent. If there’s one thing about FaceBreaker that’ll keep you on your toes, it’s the fact that button mashers need not apply here. Learning the combination moves in the game is crucial if you want to win.

Creating your fighter is the first objective and you could spend anywhere up to half an hour doing so (if you’re anything like me, that is). The creation process is extremely expansive, allowing you to alter the colour of your fighter's skin, eyes and manipulate the basics such as hairstyle, facial hair and clothing. You can even upload a photo of your face (or anyone else's) to use on your character - anyone for a Clark vs. Key match?

As with any new game, it pays to put some solid time into learning how to play. If you're something of a fighting game pro, you might catch on quicker than most but I found the control mechanics in the game a little different to what I was used to. FaceBreaker relies a lot on speed (both in reaction time and in the game) rather than accuracy and you could find yourself challenged by the gameplay. Even on the easiest setting, hitting the combos and special moves is necessary to win.

The AI will tend to go all out in a furious flurry of punches aimed at your face, and unless you’ve mastered the basics of blocking, parrying and dodging (which are a combination of R1 and left thumb stick) you’ll find yourself in a corner and eating the mat in no time! If this happens a few times in a row, you’ll soon be ready to learn some of those counter-attacks and combinations. You can enter into training at any time or you can jump straight into the fighting. There are several different difficulty settings beginning with ‘Easy’ and finishing up with ‘Ridiculous’.

There are special combination moves that you can learn. The main combinations in the game are ‘Haybreaker’, ‘Groundbreaker’, ‘Skybreaker’ and of course, ‘Facebreaker’ which are easily executed by combining two punches and a break (using the circle button, square button and triangle button). Holding down either of the punch buttons will deliver a much more powerful blow to your opponent if you can land it.

Each character also has their own signature special moves and abilities. However these are not well balanced - some characters have moves that are match winners, while others have nothing equivalent. Steve, for example, has a throw move that causes his opponent to be stunned and left open to attack for several seconds, a huge advantage. This quickly becomes frustrating, if you're not Steve.

If you enjoy comic book style artwork and animation, you'll like the presentation of Facebreaker. The comical aspect of the game also meshes wonderfully with the lively and upbeat soundtrack. A decent mixture of rap and dance (mostly remixed) tracks tends to keep you rolling with the punches (pun intended).

FaceBreaker has a decent variety of game modes to play including online player mode where you can challenge people on your friends list or even random players from the PSN. You can also progress through the various game modes to unlock different things such as new arenas to fight in and new characters to challenge in the game. You can learn all the characters' signature moves by playing through the ‘Brawl for It All’ game mode. There is also a multiplayer game mode called ‘Couch Royale’ where up to six players can fight it out to collect ‘heads’. You can access all of your trophies, player records and stats via the ‘Bragging Rights’ area from the main menu.

Overall, FaceBreaker is harder than it should be at the beginner level and it only gets harder as you progress through the game. It’s bound to be a fun activity for a few hours - until you throw the controller across the room in frustration. The difficulty is there to mask a fundamental lack of depth in the gameplay, making this a novelty rather than a serious fighting game for fans of the genre.


Want more? Check out the E3 2008 gameplay trailer over at GP Downloads (26MB).